Well-Traveled Heirloom Beans

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Photo By David Cecelski, Courtesy of the North Carolina Folklife Institute
‘October’ beans (aka ‘Fall’ beans) are tasty and prolific, and their seed can remain viable for many years.

Seventeen years ago, my husband and I planted what we called old-timey ‘October’ beans. When cooked, these heirloom beans were larger than other soup beans and had a much stronger and better flavor that we really appreciated in hearty dishes. At harvest time, we carefully separated the beans from the pods, dried them in trays, and then measured them into baggies and placed them in the freezer.

We ate most of the heirloom beans during the first couple of years. But we held back two small bags of dried beans, just in case we could plant them later. When our family moved from Virginia to Tennessee to Kentucky and then back to Virginia, we also moved the bags of beans, taking care to keep them frozen.

In 2010, when we moved back to Virginia, the first thing my husband did was plant a garden. He saved space for the beans in the warm summer soil.

It was amazing to see every bean seed sprouting. They grew into little bushy vines, produced flowers and formed pods. I could barely leave the red-striped pods alone until they were dry.

These dried Native American bean seeds, which were stored in the freezer and carried through three states over the course of 17 years, still produced an abundant crop.

Arlena Musick
Abingdon, Virginia